running buddies

What, what would I do without them? How would I get out the door when it’s like 18 degrees? When it’s snowing? Raining? When I am feeling blue? The truth is that were it not for my running buddies there are probably many days when those kinds of conditions would get the best of me.

This morning is a perfect case in point. It was like, yeah, 18 degrees with snow, of course, still all over everything. And there was a smattering of snow overnight which meant that the windshield was going to need clearing. But I knew my buddies would be looking for me, so I layered up, pulled on my SmartWool socks, two pairs of gloves, the whole winter drill. I tossed in 5 extra minutes for warming up the truck.

Except that when I get out there, the truck has a flat tire.

I could have easily given up right then. What better excuse? But, no, I knew my buddies would all be there. Long story short, after digging out and clearing off, I got to the meetup about 5 minutes late, in my borrowed beater car. And there they were – my running buddies. All looking my way as I pulled in.

I jumped out, but as I approached the group, uber buddy and inspiring runner Diane comes up to me with something in her hands. She holds it out to me. It’s this incredibly beautiful, plastic-wrapped matted photograph of a swan with a baby swan on its back. Tears spring to my eyes.

“It’s for you,” she tells me simply.

Indeed, all summer long and into late fall, we had run the loop through the park where we had watched two swans parenting two little ones. Eventually, one of the adult swans disappeared, but the other stayed and raised the babies. Week in and week out, Diane and I watched the babies grow up as we went running along. We looked for them every time we ran the park, and never failed to be amazed and delighted by them.

The swans in June.
The swans in June, taken when we were out on a run.

In the fall, we began to worry over them, as they remained in colder and colder weather. We speculated that maybe their beaks would finally turn orange, or their plumage more white and less grey, or some other sign of maturation, before they’d actually fly away.

There were days we stopped in the middle of our sprints to be awed by the flight of other migrating swans coming in for a landing, right over our heads, on their way south. We were astonished to hear the sound of their wings.

One day, we discovered a dead swan, with its beautiful neck laid back across its body, in the water right next to our running path. We stood quietly for a moment, distressed by the sight. Later, independently of each other, we both had called the parks department.

Some days, we stopped on the lookout deck just to stand silently together and appreciate the swans when they were close in. The migrating swans all eventually moved on, but our little mother and her two now full-sized babies remained in the cold, graying mists of late fall.

And then one day, very cold and late in the year, our swans were gone.

As the seasons of the swans had progressed, our own lives had as well. During this time, Diane’s mother was in hospice, and she finally lost her in October. At the same time, I was coming to terms with huge and difficult life changes, sorting out a new life of my own and adjusting to the idea of my sons being grown and on their own. As the miles passed under our feet, and we watched the swans grow up and leave, a deep bond was forged.

This beautiful photograph I now held in my hands, taken by an amazing local photographic artist, embraced our friendship, our shared experience and more.  That mother swan with the baby on its back is about boundless love that knows all along we must let them fly. And we have to fly, too.

I held Diane’s gift in my gloved hands, standing out in the cold, overwhelmed by tears.

She wasn’t going to let me do that for long though, because we had some running to do. The rest of our gently smiling buddies gathered us in, and off we ran.

Indeed, what would I do without them?

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